"Do you want an answer on the record or a real answer?" asked a senior member of the Kurdistan Regional Government. I said I wanted both.Michael Rubin basically agrees with this take on the Kurd-Israel connection, when he wrote about it back in 2001:
"On the record, I will tell you that the political conditions today do not make it possible to maintain independent relations with Israel. Iraq is one country, which includes Kurdistan, and the decision must come from Baghdad."
The real answer was: "We would like very much to develop relations with you, but not publicly. There are ways you can help us today far more than ever before."
The ties between Israel and the Kurds were severed almost in one fell swoop in the mid-1970s, and since then Israel has vanished from the scene. But not the memories.
At every corner, office, street and booth where I could say I was from Israel, the response was a thumbs-up, sometimes with both thumbs, or the word "brothers," spoken in English. Some spoke of a feeling of betrayal or abandonment, others as though they had lost family.
At every opportunity, someone spoke longingly about a Jewish friend or neighbor who had emigrated to Israel, and one person even had images from Israel as his screen saver.
But the Iraqi Kurds' sympathy toward Israel is not simply shaped by their antipathy toward Palestinians. While the Kurds now acknowledge that independence is not an option in their part of Iraq, let alone pan-Kurdish unity with their brethren in Turkey, Syria or Iran, they view Israel as a model of a minority establishing control over its own future. Indeed, in 1967, Mullah Mustafa Barzani, father of the current KDP leader Masud Barzani, visited Israel for consultations with Moshe Dayan, among other government officials. The Kurds hoped for and received some training and equipment, but the flirtation did not last. Instead, the Kurds turned to the Shah's Iran, which could provide them with material assistance more directly.But for all that, Rubin saw this relationship diminishing--even back then:
The personal Kurdish-Jewish/Israeli connection, however, is clearly fading. The older generation of Iraqi Kurds fondly remember Jewish neighbors and friends, most of whom left in the late 1940s and 50s, but younger people don't have the same recollections. Residents of Halabja, Sulaymaniyah, Irbil, Akre and Zakho can still point out what used to be the Jewish quarters, but finding old synagogues and graveyards proves much more difficult. In Amadya, residents recently argued over where the Jewish graveyard had been -- even though a centuries-old Jewish community had departed just decades earlier.Seems that the Kurds and Israel have some catching up to do.
And as Jews themselves become less familiar, the positive image of both Israel and Jews is, inevitably, on increasingly shaky grounds.
[Hat tip: Noah Pollak, The Corner]